Saturday, November 18, 2006

Choose Your Issue: Globalization or Climate

Keywords: environmental sociologists; globalization; climate change; Joseph Stiglitz; Doha round; agricultural subsidies;re-localization

There are fashions in worries. I’m on the train, returning to Toronto after a day in Montreal, where I talked with a couple of environmental sociologists, among other pleasures. Last year (or especially two or three years ago) I would surely have had a conversation about . This time, however, I had two significant conversations about climate change and the degree of pessimism that seems warranted.

On the train I’ve been reading ’s new book, Making Globalization Work. It feels like an old issue, though of course it is still vitally important in the lives of billions of people, especially in developing countries.

The chapter I’ve been reading is about . Again, it makes the rich countries appear unconscionably greedy. It recounts the history of the previous rounds of global trade negotiations. Always they have addressed liberalizing the regulations of trade for economic spheres where the rich countries are advantaged. This last time, in the Doha round, there was a promise to work on reducing or eliminating agricultural subsidies, for that would markedly help the poor countries. In exchange, the developing countries made further concessions.

Yet again, the rich countries failed to carry through with their promises. In fact, in 2002 the US passed a new law that nearly doubled it agricultural subsidies. The next year at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, the EU and the US insisted in pushing their own agenda, to reduce tariffs and open access for the goods and services that the US wanted to export. This time the meeting broke up on the fourth day in disarray. Again in 2005 the negotiators met in Hong Kong and also failed to make progress.
Stiglitz, a left-of-center economist who had worked in the World Bank and in the White House, points out that the average European cow receives a subsidy of $2 per day – more than the income level of human beings in the poor countries. He writes,

“Since the vast majority of those living in developing countries depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihood, eliminating subsidies and opening up agricultural markets would, by raising prices, be of enormous benefit.”

One point of this would be to enable farmers in the South to export some of their produce. But that’s when my other new preoccupations begin to intrude and make me wonder how relevant this reform may be.

What I am hearing about is apocalyptic. I don’t know what kinds of numbers are involved in these projections, but the main implications are horrible – probably even more so for most people in the “South” than for those of us in northern climes. Their land is going to fry.

But worse yet, the only way anyone is going to survive, if at all, is by “.” People will consume food from their own region because it will be too expensive to transport it. No more papayas in Toronto.

So maybe it makes no sense to address the problem of because climate change and will take care of that for us – though not in the way we want.

What a conundrum. I can’t even get up to speed with today’s social problem before it becomes obsolete. In the past, however, I’ve had the satisfaction of knowing that all the problems we’ve been addressing were systemic and interrelated, so that whenever I work on democracy or economic justice or racism, for example, I’m also indirectly working to reduce the problem of warfare and violence. I’m not sure that’s the case with globalization and . If we work on the former, it won’t have any bearing that I can foresee on the other problem.

Am I wrong? Maybe some good reader can enlighten me. Thank you.


Blogger Rex said...

I doubt that I am the 'good reader' you're looking for, but I do have an
unusual slant on our problems that might possibly be of some help!
There are so many problems to resolve, we need to find way to tap into our
tremendous problem-solving capacity! We need to find ways to resolve our
differing view points without killing each other (or putting those with whom
we differ in the wastebasket [with our usual adversarial methods])! We
really do need each other (all of us, even those with whom we
[especially those with whom we disagree [] We
mustn't forget that all of us are human! We all make mistakes (sometimes
even on purpose!). We all make (usually unconscious) mistakes in judgment,
in perception & even in understanding! We all have to live with the hard
fact that "the future's not ours to see", but since we all have to act (if
we want to survive), our only option is to stumble ahead into our foggy
future doing our best not to do too much serious harm to others (or our
world). To minimize our errors, we need every differing viewpoint we can
possibly access. We need to try to harmonize our differences in order to get
as clear view of the whole picture as possible. This requires great
humility! But isn't that why we are called 'human'?
When we discover that what we are doing is causing harm, we need to stop as
quickly as we can and head back to the drawing board

2:24 PM  

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